Notes 59.2 (2002) 425-428
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Gustav Mahler. Die drei Pintos: Based on Sketches and Original Music of Carl Maria von Weber. Edited by James L. Zychowicz; libretto translated by Charlotte Brancaforte and Salvatore Calomino. (Recent Researches in the Music of the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, 30-31.) Madison, Wisc.: A-R Editions, c2000. [Pt. 1: Introduction, Libretto, Act 1, Entr'act[e]. Acknowledgments, p. vii; introd., p. ix-xx; libretto and trans., p. xxi-lxxiii; 4 plates; score, p. 3-236. ISBN 0-89579-423-3. $175. [End Page 425] Pt. 2: Act 2, Act 3, Critical Report. Score, p. 237-559; crit. report, p. 561-70. ISBN 0-89579-424-1. $175.]
Like Mozart, Carl Maria von Weber was drawn to the theater at an early age, and rapidly acquired practical experience with a few lesser works, not all of which survive: Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn (1802), the incidental music for Turandot, Prinzessin von China (1809), Silvana (1810), Abu Hassan (1811), and the incidental music for Preciosa (1820) all had performances in Weber's lifetime, and excerpts are occasionally heard today in concert performances. It was with the brilliantly successful premiere of Der Freischütz in 1821 that Weber's name was made all over Europe. The two operas that followed, Euryanthe (1823) and Oberon (1826), never achieved a comparable popularity, in large part because of weak librettos, although Weber's music has sustained them intermittently on the stage ever since.
The astounding success of Der Freischütz probably impeded Weber's nearly simultaneous efforts on Die drei Pintos. He had obtained a libretto for a three-act comic opera from Theodor Hell, based on Carl Seidel's novella Der Brautkampf, and had sketched out seven numbers for it—a little less than half of the total—in various stages of detail. But although he went back to the opera now and then, perhaps as late as 1824, he failed to complete it, and Die drei Pintos remained his only unfinished opera. Weber's widow approached several other composers, notably Giacomo Meyerbeer, hoping to interest one of them in realizing a performable score from Weber's sketches, but all these tentative efforts were unsuccessful.
The sketches remained in the Weber family, untouched until 1887, when Carl von Weber, the composer's grandson, showed them to the young Gustav Mahler, then Arthur Nikisch's assistant at the Leipzig Stadttheater. Mahler was immediately attracted to the possibility of finishing Die drei Pintos, especially after Carl von Weber drafted a major revision of Hell's libretto. There was another reason, too, for Mahler's interest: he had become involved in a short but intense romance with Carl's wife Marion, with some lurid consequences that have been described by Henry-Louis de La Grange (Mahler, vol. 1 [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973], 172) and others. Once he had a grasp of Weber's sketch materials, Mahler worked quickly and completed a score in only a few months in the summer and fall of 1887. The opera received a successful premiere in Leipzig on 20 January 1888 under Mahler's direction and was soon taken up by other theaters. C. F. Kahnt of Leipzig published a vocal score in the same year, and a copyist's orchestral score, prepared under Mahler's supervision, was reproduced lithographically in a small edition by Kahnt, also in 1888. Within a few years after the initial success, however, the popularity of Die drei Pintos dwindled, and performances in the twentieth century were rare until well into the Mahler revival that began in the 1960s.
Die drei Pintos was recorded in 1976 (RCA Red Seal PRL3-9063 , LP; reissued on CD in 1995, BMG 74321-32-246-2) with a first-rate cast (Lucia Popp, Werner Hollweg, Hermann Prey, and Kurt Moll) and the Munich Philharmonic conducted by Gary Bertini; a generation of new enthusiasts of Mahler's music, not to mention older admirers of Weber, was able to get a good idea of what the opera, which had up to then mostly been a footnote, sounded like. And now...